Who Killed Creativity? How Can We Get Creativity Back?

CSI Creativity murder suspects: The Incubation Years (School: 1)

Being correct is no longer good enough – why being creative is what counts

On the last day of her final high school exams, our 17 year old daughter crossed the school quad feeling absolutely shattered. Despite having put her best efforts into studying, she felt she had failed the school system she had spent 13 years building up to and preparing for. Over the previous three days she had valiantly tackled the five three-hour tests, but had finally broken down when the overwhelming anxiety had become too much. She had cried through the last two exams and her face was red and puffy as a result, but she didn’t care what anyone thought. She was too exhausted to care about anything anymore.

When she was halfway across the playground she was stopped in her tracks by an all too familiar booming voice behind her. ‘Young lady, where is your proper school uniform!’ It was the school principal, who irregularly ventured out of his lair just to prey on unsuspecting students who had dared to express a modicum of independence, or so it seemed. After being berated and reduced to tears once more, she left the school that day for the last time, incredibly relieved she would never have to go back.

Somehow the school system had depleted her confidence over time, reducing her to a mere shadow of her former pre-school self. As she now waits in limbo for a single ranked mark out of 100, one that she has been told will rate her success in life to date and determine her success in the future, we are all reflecting on the whole experience.

Does school prepare for the future?

So has school prepared her for the future of work? And are contemporary organisations ready to take on her and her generation with the education they have received? We all know that yes, she will most likely be better off than an uneducated person, and yet we are not so sure what school has really taught her. So let’s look at where the education system may be failing her in preparing her for the workplace AND how employees will need to recognise and adjust to the possible failures.

In order to survive, companies today will not be needing knowledge experts or correct answers – Google and Wikipedia can now do this for us. The skills needed for survival into the future are creative thinking and innovation. Individuals and organisation of the future will be the ones who are flexible and resilient enough to invent and reinvent themselves. With the pace of change continuing to increase so fast (sigmoidal growth) adaptable organisations must learn to live constantly with disruptive innovations, knowing what’s core to their offering and adjusting to what will need to be reformed. It will be a case of either innovate or die.

As Tim Harford says, “Change moves so fast in companies now it’s not an option to ignore it or try to restrain it. But many traditional educated people will miss this – sufficiently disruptive innovation bypasses almost everybody who matters at a company: In short, everyone who counts in a company will lose status if the disruptive innovation catches on inside that company — and whether consciously or unconsciously, they will often make sure that it doesn’t. As a result, the company may find itself in serious trouble. It may even die.”

The move back to creative thinking

Most business leaders are acutely aware of this new innovative demand and must now tremble in their boots as a wave of matriculating students hit their workforce. When more than 1,500 CEOs from 33 different industries and 60 different countries were interviewed recently they revealed that they believe creative thinking is now the most important quality in leadership, rating it more important even than integrity and global thinking. The IBM report has identified a number of factors that set apart ‘creative leaders’, and has found that 81% of them rate innovation as a ‘crucial capability’.

The problem is that school rewards ‘correct’ answers not ‘creative’ ones. When a student gets the answer correct they move on to the next question and the next and the next, rarely getting time to try new creative approaches.

In the week following that fateful last day of school, a new child was born. With her newfound freedom, a huge cloud was lifted from our daughter’s mind and she began to imagine what her life could become. She started to make dramatic changes. In the very next week she designed a music video clip for a friend, planned for travel in Europe, organised her eighteenth birthday, prepared for a university interview, and shopped for and cooked up a creative feast. She set herself goals with practical action plans that included finding ways to get a job, looking for volunteer work possibilities, reading books and completing a photography course…among many other ideas. It seemed that she had achieved more in that week than she had in the whole previous year, and she felt incredibly engaged and empowered in the process. The world had suddenly opened up for her!

School children and working adults spend more of their waking hours at school or work than anywhere else. Ensuring there is a positive environment for growth is both an ethical and an economic imperative. If those who lead organisations support the individuals and teams in them better, ensuring there is a continuing process of regeneration built on solid, positive principles for growth, we can create much higher levels of engagement and creative confidence.

By ensuring creative thinking remains a top priority, we can start to deal with the creativity killers and allow for the regeneration of individuals and organisations. Which means everybody wins.

In the next article find out why Steve Jobs was not an inventor, and why our education system is no longer relevant for this new breed of leaders….

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